I admit the fact that the title of this article sounds like a movie name. In other words, I did not travel as much as Brad Pitt did in Seven Years in Tibet, but my master’s degree has also been a challenging academical adventure.

Most people reach their master’s degree between 2 to 3 years. They start their master studies right after the undergraduate programme, and they follow master courses besides some part-time work. However, I did not have this luxury. After completing my bachelor studies in Turkey, I had to get a full-time job in IT (2009). After I established my financial freedom in a couple of years, I decided to follow master’s degree in IT at University of Oslo (2014).

5 years of work experience helped me realize the value of master studies. In 2009, I was not quite aware of its significance, but I came to the conclusion that completing some master’s degree is a good career and personal development investment.

In 2014, I talked to my manager at Thomson Reuters and we reduced my working hours by 40%. I was supposed to pass three courses in the first semester, so I worked at my professional job 3 days a week. However, I managed to pass only two courses because it was not possible to follow all theoretical and lab lectures of three courses with only 2 workdays free in a week. Meanwhile, my monthly income naturally cut by 40% and this quickly ended up having minor financial problems for myself.

In the spring semester of 2015, I worked 4 days a week and aimed to pass only one course. This tactic paid better since I managed to create some balance between financial independence and academical growth. However, it was certainly not enough. Because I was supposed to get 60 credits in my first year, but I had managed to get only 30 credits.

In fall 2016, I picked some completely wrong course for myself and got away from master’s degree. I had also consumed my energy and focus. And at the end of first two years, the University of Oslo kicked me out of master’s programme since I did not manage to finish it on time.

After this period, I enrolled at master studies once more, but my request was denied. (2017) The university aims to give the chance of study to almost everyone, but if you failed once, you are not welcome as you applied for the first time. I applied once more, and rejected once more. (2018) This time, I sent an e-mail to the university and asked about why I had been rejected. And they said I was rejected because of my lack of academical growth. This is actually polite way of saying this: “You only got 30 credits in 2 years. If you somehow manage to gain more credits, we may consider to accept you back”.

I decided to change my strategy after this news and learned about “Admission to Single Course Studies”. It roughly works this way:

  • The university places every student at some course.
  • Every semester, some courses lack students.
  • They open admission for outsiders (like me) for these courses.
  • You are allowed to pick one among 2 or 4 courses.
  • If you manage to pass your selected course, you get 10 credits.

Good deal! Following this path, I applied a course almost every semester and started to collect 10 credits once in a while. I was not able to pass a course every semester because I did not have any suitable course for me at some semesters, but I managed to collect 30 more credits within two more years. As a sum, I had 60 credits. In other words, I managed to become a more attractive student for the board which decides who would be accepted to the master’s programme. And this plan worked.

In fall 2020, I have been officially re-accepted as a master student at University of Oslo. To be able to graduate, you need to have 120 credits in total and my lacking 60 credits were locked behind a successful master thesis wall. At that time, I have been lucky to meet my current employer Fremtind AS. They had been implementing something called “design system”. It was completely new to me at that time. As I learned more about design systems, I started to see the connection with platforms. I had learnt about platforms at one of my single courses and managed to tie these two worlds for my master thesis. This process helped me write my thesis about some topic which I actually work in a daily basis. Finally, I delivered my thesis in December 2021 and finished my master’s degree.

Pros and cons of my path

Taking master courses besides professional work is definitely not easy. You have to dedicate your evenings and weekends to reading research papers, preparing homework and passing final exams. This is lots of stress, but it is a great opportunity to discover one’s true potential. I apparently enjoyed reading many research papers. You have to read lots of things, but these valuable articles contain surprising secrets. When you experience such aha moment, it builds up your character and you start seeing patterns from multiple perspectives.

Moreover, academic studies are mostly about theory, but I was at a practical world at the same time. I was able to apply some new knowledge that I gained at a lecture immediately at my working hours. I realized this advantage already in the first weeks of my path. You learn some new thing at school, you get to the work and apply it instantly. This is luxury in professional life.

As you see, I had to take a painful path for my master’s degree, but I have been stubborn enough to get it done. I honestly don’t know how many times I thought I would quit and sometimes I even quit this dream, but reconsidered the situation and applied a new remedy to get over the obstacles.

Instead of struggling with master’s degree, I could have invested in a startup idea, some framework or anything else, but that was what I wanted for myself. I did not want to die without knowing what was academical life all about and I definitely think that it was worth it.

I hope this story inspires more people out there struggling with similar challenges. You may stop believing in yourself, take a rest if you fall down, but just for a while. Then, keep moving towards your goal.

Sercan Leylek / OSLO

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